Sony MDR-1ABT - High-Res Audio Over Wireless

August 03, 2015

High quality audio over wireless is what the MDR-1ABT (SGD 499) is all about. While similar in design to its predecessor, the MDR-10RBT, the most distinct difference are the new touch sensor controls.
There are 2 variants - MDR-1A/B Standard Headphones (SGD 399) is a wired version and the MDR-1ADAC Standard Headphones with USB DAC (SGD 499) interestingly includes an integrated digital-to-analog converter within.

Massive is one simple word to describe the box at 235 x 230 x 115mm. 
You have a choice of Black or Silver for colors. The review unit was the Silver edition.
Once the shrink wrap comes off, just slide out the black interior box.
An equally massive black box
Open it up like a book to reveal the imposing MDR-1ABT over-ears headphones on the right. 
And here are the headphones. Plus a tiny guide for the touch sensor
The left can be flipped further to access the user guides and a black carrying case. Tucked in the case are the USB charging cable and the 3.5mm audio cable to allow a wired connection.
Accessories to the left
The 300g MDR-1ABT headphones feel like they are solidly built. The leather headband and replaceable ear cushions are plush and feel very comfortable when placed over the ears. A point to note is that the tip of my ears touched the 40mm driver housing as the space afforded is rather shallow. A single hinge allows the cups to be swivelled 90 degrees for compact storage.

8 Aug 2015:
The ear cushions are not for sale at Sony Stores. However, they can be ordered at SGD 64 a pair (SGD 32 for each side) from the Sony Store at 313@Somerset.

Very comfortable ear cushions we have!
The headphones fit inside the carrying case snugly. Within, there's a sleeve that allows you to stash the cables you want to bring with you.
Tie it all up and we're ready to go
The MDR-1ABT is one of the first products supporting Sony's LDAC audio technology. LDAC's purpose is to transmit CD quality audio over a Bluetooth connection, very similar to what the aptX codec does (View this link for the technical differences). For LDAC usage, you can opt to use the Sony NW-ZX2 Walkman as the source though I did not use this as a testing device as the unit was not available.
NFC, Bluetooth, LDAC, aptX? Check to all.

In my case, my source (Samsung Galaxy S4) and receiver (MDR-1ABT) are aptX compatible. When I wrote in to Samsung, it appears the usage of the codec is enabled by default as long as the file is hi-res (we're looking at 1400kbps). As for iPhones, these units are conspicuously absent from the list of compatible products.
3 flashes of blue show you that Bluetooth is functional.
You can connect to your phone either by Near Field Communications (NFC) or Bluetooth. To get NFC to work, your phone needs to support it. Sony has a great user guide that talks about the 1001 permutations to connect to different phones. 
Pairing on the NFC Easy Connect app (found on Google Play).
For the Samsung Galaxy S4, I switched this setting on, turned on the headphone power and pressed the 'N' logo on the Sonys onto the phone's NFC point. Et voila, they are linked. Sony has an NFC Easy Connect app which Android v2.3.3 - v4.0.4 users will need. Just for kicks, I installed the app even though I'm on v4.4.2 and the NFC connection works just fine.

I decided to pair with a second device (an iPad Air) via Bluetooth. I held the button until there were alternating blue and red flashing LEDs to indicate the pairing mode. I then activated the Bluetooth on the iPad and then linked them.
Double tap to start / stop tracks. A horizontal motion changes tracks.
The touch sensor for playback / call controls takes up the entire smooth flat backing of the right side. Sony took pains to put a tiny user guide, talking about the sensor, smack on the headphones and rightfully so. It took some time to get used to changing tracks and personally, button actuation worked better for me. When a call is incoming, a pleasant chime greets you. You just double finger tap the right side to pick it up.
Vertical motion increases / decreases the volume.
While the experience was a bit of a hit and miss, one cannot deny that this is an innovative presentation and is a function that will increasingly be explored by headphone manufacturers.
The straight jack to the headphones and the L-shaped one to your player.
A 3.5mm audio cable allows you to have a 1.2m wired connection to your player. When you plug the straight end to the left side, the headphones power (and Bluetooth) turns off automatically.
Plug the wire to the left side.
The good part is that the sound quality stays practically at the same level and you save the power. The flip side is if you are connected to your phone, it's perplexing to note that you can't use the touch sensor to pick up calls nor can you use the microphone on the MDR-1ABT.


The sound quality over Bluetooth is well balanced and gives the impression that there's a very wide soundstage. These headphones are not for bass-heads and I say that in a good way. The bass doesn't overwhelm when listening to trance tracks such as Gouryella's Anahera. On the high frequencies, All Saints' vocals on Pure Shores came through William Orbit's dreamy soundscape with a decent level of clarity.
What comes in the package.
On the other hand, noise isolation was poor. This was tested on a bus and many environmental sounds like engine revs and bus chatter could be easily heard. 

The Bluetooth range is about 10m. When I walked beyond this radius, I started to get the expected intermittent sound.

To charge the Sony, open the dust flap and plug the provided micro USB cable. You won't be able to use the headphones wirelessly during the charging.  
A red LED indicates the headphones are charging.
For a 1 hour charge, Sony claims that they can be used for 8 hours. On a full charge of 4 hours, music playback time ranges from a very agreeable 28 hours (hi-res formats like aptX / LDAC) to 30 hours (low-res formats like SBC).
The MDR-1A Standard Headphones with Bluetooth is a good choice of an over-ear unit for indoor users. If you change tracks often, you may want to test if the touch sensor controls are to your liking. That said, do give these pair of Sony headphones a go if you are in search of comfort combined with a well balanced audio quality boasting a wide soundstage.

Audio Sources
Pure Shores - All Saints (ALAC) on Samsung Galaxy S4
Anahera - Ferry Corsten presents Gouryella (Spotify 320kbps MP3) on iPad Air

Credit to Sony, Waggener Edstrom Communications for a review unit.

Update (8 Aug 2015):
- Ear cushion pricing information

Where To Buy
If you like what you have read, do feel free to support me by buying either the Silver or Black Sony MDR-1ABT from Amazon via this affiliate link. Prices start from USD 310.

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Bose SoundLink around-ear wireless II

Sennheiser URBANITE XL Wireless

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  1. peace out!!! calm and silent yes only we can hear music


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